By Bill Parry
Several legislators, including state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-East Elmhurst), called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign protections for job seekers as they released the results of a new investigation, “Demanding Justice for Job Seekers,” last week. The report illustrated deceptive and illegal tactics employment agencies use to prey on minimum-wage work seeking applicants.
Employment agencies, licensed by the state, or in New York City by the Department of Consumer Affairs, cannot guarantee employment to a job seeker and must refund advance fees if employment is not secured. Unscrupulous agencies across the city, for years, have fleeced low-wage and immigrant workers out of high fees when they apply for and never land work such as busboys, wait staff, household staff, manual laborers and other unskilled work.
Current state law allows an agency to charge a fee for these jobs in advance, unlike professional jobs where fees only come after applicants nail down a job.
“Several years ago, after hearing from my constituents whose desperation to find work was exploited by unscrupulous employment agencies, I fought to draft legislation that would protect workers from being taken advantage of,” Moya said. “I’ve seen firsthand how fraudulent agencies charge fees in the hundreds, sending out hopeful job seekers on a wild goose hunt before changing their address and resuming their scheme elsewhere. Even when an agency is legitimate, agencies illegitimately charge upfront fees on the promise of a better job. But that promise is false, and that fee is unrefundable. The solution that I have fought to achieve is simple: No more fees in advance.”
During an undercover investigation, staff visited 76 employment agencies in New York City that were both licensed and unlicensed. Only 37 were accessible. Many had closed, illustrating the fly-by-night nature of many unlicensed employment agencies.
Of the 37 agencies visited, 76 percent asked for an advance fee and nearly half said they would not refund money if a job seeker did not find employment, which is against current state law, In an undercover clip, an agent at an employment agency not only guaranteed employment, but went as far as to compare an illegal nonrefundable fee to clothing return policies.
Moya and state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) passed in their respective houses the Justice for Job Seekers bill, which would strengthen protections for job seekers and crack down on unscrupulous agencies with stiffer penalties.
“It’s unconscionable that unscrupulous employment agencies scam job seekers looking for minimum wage work and that’s why we need Gov. Cuomo to sign into law protections for this vulnerable class of workers,” Klein said. “Many times immigrants seeking the American Dream wind up getting the American Nightmare at these agencies after being fleeced while on the hunt for work. This needs to end.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr